I am a long time user of Apple’s Airport Extreme base stations. I loved pretty much everything about them – compact design, lack of protruding external antennae, stable connectivity, ease of configuration through a well-designed Airport Configuration Utility, and on-going firmware updates, even for the 9-year old one (!). For a variety of reasons, over time I ended up owning three of them – 2nd, 4th, and 5th gen, extending WiFi around the house (it’s a rental, so no CAT cabling).
In recent years, however, things have slowly but surely drifted toward sour. Airport Configuration Utility has been dumbed down a lot, and firmware stability seems to have taken a hit, too – I don’t remember ever needing to reboot a base station until a few years ago. The number of connected devices in the house has grown steadily – I consistently see around 10–15 connected at any given time. More and more neighbours’ access points popped up around. Usage patterns have also changed – kids have grown up, and now study and entertain themselves on various devices around the house.
So the connectivity grew spottier and less stable, and I couldn’t make things happy again no matter what I tried. Real-time online games kept stuttering, and chatting over the net kept breaking up. Not all the time, but often enough to be a nuisance. And in the backyard.. Well, there was no usable reception there, let’s leave it at that.
So enough was enough, and search for a replacement has begun.
Slick, trouble-free experience of yore tends to spoil, and, while I no longer had it, I wanted it back. Which presented a problem.
Let’s recap the criteria:
- Compact, inoffensive form factor with no external antennae; ability to disable LEDs a bonus
- Stable connectivity from a single AP covering the whole house, backyard, and garage
- Reasonable expectation that the Vendor won’t disappear overnight, sell out, or abandon the device
- Since the router I was rather enjoying (Skydog) was sold to Comcast who badly mistreated it and will soon turn it into a pumpkin, I didn’t want to touch anything that requires a cloud-based controller with a ten-foot pole
- The thing should be easy to get going without the need to complete a 5 day intensive training course
- Did I mention good range and stable connectivity?
No way in green hell I was going to buy one of these “hedgehog” whassnames – for the pure aesthetic factor alone. I also am not in the mood for spending any time fiddling with custom firmwares or nerd knobs if I can help it.
I don’t like the form factor of the current (6th gen) Apple’s Extreme, so it was “no, thanks” to that one.
I looked at the slew of newly-minted devices that IT press breathlessly pitched as “your next saviour” – OnHub, Luma, Eero, AmpliFi, and so on. What stopped me there however was that (1) they were so new; (2) some had mandatory cloud backend, or (3) being sold in packs, maybe because their operating range is crap to begin with (?). Don’t know, and not in the mood to find out.
Next call were the business-grade APs – the likes of Aruba, Ubiquiti, Meraki, Ruckus, etc. I saw a few recommendations for Ubiquiti, and frankly was getting ready to get one. Some of the reviews I saw were “on the wall”, but it was probably good enough.
Yes, I know – we’re now moving into a different price category. Like, seriously different. But, given how central a good WiFi is to a modern house, and how much I dislike dealing with the implications of having a shitty one, I was prepared to part with a reasonable amount of buckazoids for a real solution.
While Ubiquiti was #1 on my short list, I kept on slowly digging further, which led me to Ruckus. I looked deper, and liked what I found even more – looks like they are very successful in hotel and venue wireless segments. In challenging environments, with lots of walls and objects, and clients. Where Ruckus was claiming that they could provide better, faster, more reliable service using much smaller number of APs than others, using the magic of software beam forming and other wizardry.
Encouraging data I saw in test results found on the interwebz gave me hope that one acces point may provide the desired coverage. Check. The R710 I’ve been eyeing looked acceptable, so another “check”. They’re an established Vendor, and have just recently been acquired by Brocade, where I work nowadays. I’m considering it a “check” for potential longevity. The thing can (of course) run with a wireless controller, but can also run standalone. Yay. Ok. A further look through the Quick Start and User Guides gave more hope – it appeared quite straight-forward. So I hunted down a good deal on an R710, and pulled the trigger.
The box arrived, and I dove right in. Please mind that it doesn’t come with power supply, since it’s meant for PoE deployments. You’ll need to get a power brick or a PoE injector. I got a brick, which is a standard DC 12V / 2A affair. Quick setup instructions are very straight-forward – plug AP into your laptop via CAT5/6 cable, set your IP to 192.168.0.x, open 192.168.0.1 in your web browser, and go through setup steps to get going:
- Select the right country, and
- Activate one or more 2.4G and 5G radios, which literally is toggle radio as “Active”, type in SSID, select “WPA” in encryption method, and enter passphrase. Done.
Then for 5G enable 80MHz channel width, and.. that’s all.
In my setup, WiFi is in bridging mode, so that was it. A range of enterprise features is there in the UI for those who need it, but I don’t, so can’t really comment on them.
Once completed the setup, I moved the AP to its spot made by moving aside one of my Apple APs, and went to test.
Did it deliver? Boy, did it deliver.
In my son’s room, which is the farthest in the house:
- My 13″ MBP was doing 15–25Mbps on speedtest on the original WiFi, with frequent throughput drops down to 1–2Mbps. On the new AP it consistently delivered 65–75Mbps, no drops.
- PS4 was getting 1–5Mbps. It is now getting 15–20Mbps.
- Son’s PC was getting 15–20Mbps. 85–95Mbps now.
In girls’ room, daughters’ MBAs were getting 10–15Mbps. Now they hit 65–70Mbps.
In the garage my iPhone used to go straight into the “friend mode” – one bar WiFi reception, and network barely moved. On the new AP – consistent 15Mbps, while an iPad gets steady 35–40Mbps.
App updates on iPads and iPhones load stupidly fast – can’t really objectively measure, but on old APs I’ve never seen them load so fast even when standing right next to the AP. On my MPB browsing Internet just feels “fast”. Yes, this is not objective, but speedtest consistently hits 95–100Mbps in all areas where I usually work, compared to 50–70 I used to get, and without any dips in throughput.
While the tests above are completely unscientific and done using speedtest that is limited by my Internet connection (100Mbps DOCSIS3.0), the fact that the usable range now extends to where I wanted makes me happy as a puppy.
So what about the rest of my points? Let’s see:
- Turns out it lets you disable LEDs to cut out disturbing blinking light pollution in evenings. Great, no more bluetack on LEDs. 🙂
- Coverage: very much check. Stability: seems fine so far (I had it for two weeks at the time of writing).
With the rest of my points covered during initial research, this one looks a keeper. 🙂
One more thing – with enterprise products it’s not unreasonable to expect that access to support documentation and firmware upgrades may need a support contract. Well, happy to report that with Ruckus I didn’t need one so far. All I had to do is to create a free account on the support web site, and that gave me access to doc and firmware downloads.
Net result: two Airport Extremes are back in their boxes, with the third ones’ wireless module disabled (it’s still working as an Ethernet switch and a printer server). And that sweet, sweet interwebz access is now everywhere we want it. 🙂
Want one? Here’s an Amazon link: http://amzn.to/29WntwG